When job hunting recently, I called a local company with an excellent track record for reliable hiring and better-than-average pay. Japanese-owned, this company is an unlikely addition to the small country town in which I live, yet it has not only survived the recession, but thrived and continued to offer jobs at a steady rate.
Therefore, I was surprised to hear that they were not hiring and wouldn’t be for a long time, due to the recent earthquake and tsunami that devastated a large portion of Japan. Call me naïve, but it was at that moment that I realized the impact that something that seemed to be far-removed from my life in rural Indiana could have on my neighbors, and even on me.
Japan recovered from World War II by focusing on investing and exporting; this strategy caused it to rise to the number two spot in the world’s economies. It was only recently that they lost this coveted spot to China’s rapidly expanding economy, but after the recent natural disasters, they are now faced with the prospect of a long and deep recession.
While it is easy to understand how America – with its buy now, pay later mentality – could have gotten themselves embroiled in the recession, it is a far more bitter pill to swallow that something as unexpected and unavoidable as a natural disaster could not only wreck an economy that had already rebuilt itself after two atomic bombs, but could directly affect my ability to find gainful employment and support myself and my children.
Yet, that’s exactly what has happened. When I unexpectedly found myself unemployed with two children who still needed to eat three square meals a day (and who snack ravenously between those meals), I was worried, but not overly so. After all, as I stated before, I knew that this company would likely hire me, and I would receive better-than-average pay. I called to inquire about employment opportunities; it was then that I learned they had implemented a hiring freeze, and that said hiring freeze would last for an undetermined length of time.
While the personal impact of this knowledge was fairly significant, upon introspection, I realized two things: that acts of nature could have a profound impact on a country’s otherwise stable and thriving economy; and that what happens in a country so far removed from my worries could actually add to them. What had seemed a “sure thing” turned out to be quite the opposite, and – unlike the remedies offered by economists and stimulus checks – there wasn’t anything that could be done about it. After all, while you can undo mistakes made by foolish government officials, you can’t undo an earthquake or a tsunami.
This realization has shown me again how tightly intertwined the economies of countries are, even those who tout themselves as independent. It has also shown me that the suffering of strangers can easily dovetail with my own troubles. While I will not try to pretend that my six months of unemployment compares to the suffering of those who lost so much in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, this knowledge has not only served to place my troubles into proper perspective, but to understand how much worse it could be.
For those who mistakenly dismiss stories of other people’s problems as separate from their own and therefore inconsequential, I urge you to broaden your worldview. It is easy to change the channel when the news comes on, in favor of the newest sitcom or reality show. To only be able to envision yourself in the shoes of others, but to also see the impact that their everyday lives can have on your everyday life can be an enlightening experience, and can help you to have a better overall understanding of how the world works and what you, as an individual, can do to help it run just a little smoother.